When you read that word, what’s your first reaction? You may be very “meh” about it but, if you’re from Colorado like I am, cyclists conjure up any number of varying responses from both sides.
“They’re so reckless on the roads!”
“Cars need to make room for us, too!”
“Why are they biking on the sidewalk???”
“Why are you running in my bike lane instead of on your sidewalk?”
“Ugh, can’t they bike somewhere else? I can barely pass them!”
“It’s called ‘sharing the road!'”
As a somewhat-regular cyclist myself, I get the polarizing effects of how bicycles mix with today’s walking and driving traffic.
How about this one? So many feelings arise at the casual or intentional use of this word, and it means a slew of things to many:
“Earning money for social media power.”
“Having hundreds of thousands of followers.”
“Speaking at XYZ conference every year!”
“Offering great insights about <insert topic here>.”
“Providing value over begging for acclaim.”
It occurred to me, in the odd way my brain often works, that cycling is a lot like being a social media influencer.
Did I lose you just then? Stick with me a bit and see if this starts to gel as I describe a few ways this makes perfect sense from spokes to social.
The good ones.
Being a good cyclist isn’t about wearing the right gear or having the slickest bike; it’s about moving in harmony with yourself, your bike, and your surroundings.
A good cyclist doesn’t just want to enjoy the ride and make it home in one piece (body and bike). They also want to respect the pedestrians, motorists, and venues along their way in an effort to generate respect in return. They get that riding recklessly or acting like they own the road or path doesn’t foster a good future experience for anyone.
A good influencer is like that harmonious cyclist: enjoying the momentum, but also recognizing the other forces and individuals which add to the experience. Good influencers acknowledge that they didn’t get to where they are by sheer force of their awesome talent, wit, or looks. They welcome sharing of the spotlight and know there’s more than enough road for everyone.
The bad ones.
Ah, even I can venture into hating on my cyclist tribe when I spot these pedal-pushers. Their behavior always gives them away: dodging in front of cars and pedestrians and often causing them to brake hard or fast to avoid a collision; riding two or more across a narrow bike line on a roadway; gesturing obscenely at cars who, while obeying the traffic laws, expect mutual obedience from the rider.
A bad cyclist makes all of us look bad. When new rules or pathways are put into effect to make cycling easier, their behavior causes everyone else to moan about the latest concession. Their brazenness at forgetting car-beats-bike-every-time while daring others on the road to challenge their way forward is ridiculous. Their ignorance of speed limits through pedestrian-heavy areas is enough to make me want to swear in their general direction.
A bad influencer awakens the same response. They think every opportunity should be about them and for them, and sharing credit or spotlight is out of the question. They only befriend other names with large followings, forgetting they weren’t always so popular and had help to climb the recognition ladder. They treat the three steps onto a stage as a chasm which now separates them from the lowly unwashed audience they once sat in.
The dumb ones.
These are the special set of cyclists which don’t just inspire anger—they cause harm through their ignorance. By ignoring the proper safety gear or function of their bike, each ride is taking many lives onto their dubious handlebars and hoping for the best. (We all know how well that works.) They can’t be bothered to be careful as long as they feel cool and are seen coasting through life along with the other trendsetters.
And yes, there are dumb influencers. Void of much original thought, they rely on retweeting or borrowing platitudes pushed out by their peers so they can show a timeline with content. They don’t do the hard work of learning the rules or practicing the basics which lead to greater growth; instead, they tout their Klout score as evidence they should be recognized (which instead may just mean they need something other than tweeting to fill the hours). Worse, they find clients to pay them for professional work, but their lack of real-life knowledge and execution turns yet another customer into a non-believer of social media. (No, really, thanks so much for leaving this trail of carnage behind you.)
By spoke or social, we need to do better.
Look. I’m a huge believer in cycling. If you had asked me five years ago if I saw myself turning to two wheels to be my main source of recreation and exercise, I’d have laughed myself silly and gone back to eating chocolate chips by the handful (it’s a personal problem). Who would have guessed the bike paths and Colorado scenery would so strongly beckon and prompt me to keep pedaling into a better existence? Yet I know that venturing forth requires my preparation and diligence with each outing.
I’m also a true addict of social media and believe it can do far more good than harm. But that relies on each of us wielding it well and being good influencers. Whether you have 25 or 25,000 Twitter followers, you influence. Someone out there is reading what you publish; feel the weight of that responsibility. We’re in a time when anyone can become a publisher with global access; misusing that power thanks to ego or ignorance is downright dangerous for the entire industry and its dedicated tribe.
The thing is, it’s not hard to be good. All it really requires is taking that moment to feel beyond your own selfish drive and acknowledge that you share this planet with other beings. That’s really it. Once you remember the road ahead isn’t paved just for you, being a good cyclist or influencer makes the way forward clear.
If it doesn’t, well… please just promise to steer far away from me geographically and socially. If you’re a bad or dumb cyclist, you threaten my ability to make it home alive to my family. If you’re a bad or dumb influencer, you threaten the people I call my family who happen to exist for me on the internet.
Want to cycle with me in Denver or check in about the type of influencer you want to be?
Comment below or tweet at me.